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Commentary: It's time to turn off San Onofre

December 01, 2012|By Denny Freidenrich

Talk about a game-changer. Do you know the Barack Obama campaign tracked the buying, subscription and leisure habits of 29,000 voters as far back as 2008? Most presidential campaigns track about 1,500 voters for six to 12 months. It turns out this is exactly what Mitt Romney's brain trust did. Is it any wonder then why Obama was reelected?

I mention this in light of a mid-September poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth. The results indicated strong support among Southern California Edison customers for closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The poll surveyed 700 customers who live inside Edison's service area. It found that 58%, or 406 people, oppose restarting the plant, which has been shuttered since January after a leak of radioactive gas prompted the shutdown of one of its two reactors.

Given how the Obama folks conducted their surveys of voters, is it fair to say those 406 Edison customers are the nail in San Onofre's coffin? Not according to SCE. Thirty percent of those asked do not favor closing the plant. Here's what an Edison spokeswoman had to say two months ago:

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"Any survey of its customers' opinions should 'accurately describe the role San Onofre plays' both in power generation and 'reliability and grid support' — that is, the fact that the nuclear plant produces power round the clock, regardless of weather, unlike wind or solar power."

Don't tell former presidential candidate Romney this, but the September survey also reports that 47% of those polled believe Edison puts profits, not safety, first. Not surprisingly, SCE says that safety is its main priority.

Believing that the plant should have been subjected to more thorough review of steam-generator design changes by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Friends of the Earth has been critical of Edison's handling of the problems at San Onofre.

They aren't the only ones. A thoughtful local elected official I have known for years, someone who has attended nearly every public forum on this topic, says San Onofre has the worst safety record in the nation.

According to a story in the Orange County Register, "Regulators determined that the problems were caused by flawed computer modeling that led to design flaws. In the Unit 3 reactor, changes in the fabrication process caused more problems.

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